By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos on Wednesday announced plans for the county to build a state-of-the-art ambulatory health care facility to provide indigent care and other medical services.
The facility would replace the current Cooper Green Mercy Health Services building, which was built in 1972, and serves as an urgent care center.
“We can have a world class indigent care facility . . . backed up by UAB doctors,” Petelos said. “I think it’s imperative that we stay in the medical district and on this site. This will be a model for the rest of the country.”
Petelos made the announcement during a Jefferson County Commission Committee meeting. All five commissioners voted to authorize Petelos to move forward on steps to develop the ambulatory health care facility.
Commissioners were elated when they heard the announcement.
“It does my heart good,” Commissioner George Bowman said. “We get a new Cooper Green . . .it’s more efficient. It’s as good a care as patients will get at any other hospital in town. I’ve seen it at its height, I’ve seen it at its lowest ebb and I’ve seen the resurgence of Cooper Green. It’s like a renaissance.”
Presently the county owns the two square blocks where Cooper Green Mercy Health Services is located on Sixth Avenue South. A nearby parking deck is built in two sections and “if you take half the parking deck down we can build a new building where the parking deck is,” Petelos said.
The facility could take two years to plan and build, Petelos said. He did not give a cost but said estimates would be about $55 million. He will return to the commission in 45 days with more definitive numbers, he said.
Petelos said the current facility is outdated and it would cost more than $50 million to “fix just the basics” of the current facility. “The infrastructure is in bad shape,” he said. However, an energy efficient building would save over $1 million just on utilities which will be put back into healthcare, said Petelos.
Roger McCullough, chief executive officer of Cooper Green, said the current building is very expensive to maintain from “both a financial perspective and an operational perspective.”
“There is a lot of space . . . we could never use without making major renovations. We are using some of the space but adapting it to the clinic environment and that’s not really efficient. It causes us to duplicate services and oftentimes it’s inconvenient for patients.”
The new clinic would be built for the future and contain enough space for both doctors and patients, McCullough said.
“Right now if we add primary care physicians we have to put them in a different location from the other primary care physicians. . . it’s not convenient for patients,” said McCullough, who added the current site also needs space for additional specialists.
Petelos said the plan is for a five-story building with a west wing and an east wing – on each floor, he said. “Each wing will be about 10,000 square feet,” he explained.
Once a 319-bed inpatient hospital, Cooper Green Mercy transitioned to a medical-service clinic after a majority of the Jefferson County Commission voted to close the inpatient care unit and emergency room in August 2012.
On Jan. 1, 2013, Cooper Green Hospital closed and began operating as an urgent care center with primary clinics.